Visit to an Italian Provolone Factory (+ Recipes)

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This is the 2nd of four cheese producing factories that I visited on my trip to Italy with Sam’s Club cheese buyers:  Auricchio, one of the best-selling Provolone producers in the world.  This cheese business is crazy stuff.  SO much going on in these factories… I’m telling ya, you’d be amazed.  Provolone is a whole-milk cow cheese.  15 milk trucks a day deliver 400 tons of milk, which in turn makes 40 tons of cheese.  Provolone is a semi-hard cheese with taste varying greatly from Provolone Piccante (sharp) to Provolone Dolce (sweet).  The sharp provolone is made only by hand.  The process was fun to watch.  One guy gets the cheese all nice and smooth by folding it over and over and rounding it into a big ball.

Then he calls his buddy over and says, “Hey, I’ll buy you a glass of Chianti after work if you help me roll this into a big, long cylinder shape.”


Together, they pick up the cheese and place it into a metal cannister, which will help it to keep its shape.

Isn’t that amazing?  They do this all day long… 6.5 hour shifts/6 days a week doing exactly what you see here.  I’ve been complaining about my arms lately, but if I worked their job I don’t think I’d have any worries (good workout!)   The cannisters are transferred to a big machine that will dip a whole bunch of them into cool water (to harden the form), then they’re dipped in warmer water, where the cheese will slide out and go into a brine for 20 days.

To make sharp provolone, it is aged for a minimum of 4 months.  There is aging provolone all over their company, from floor to ceiling, in all different shapes and sizes.

Yeah, even cheese that is this big.  What the heck they do with this, I have no idea.

This was interesting- a giant bell… made out of provolone, painted/decorated with food-safe paint & with “Auricchio” boldly emblazoned on all sides.  When I asked what they use these 100 pound cheese bells for, I was told that they sell 3,000 per year.  Apparently, they’re popular to display as a table decoration for holidays in Italy.  And then people eat them, of course.  Hmmm.

Lots of different machines cut the provolone into all different shapes for packaging.

Sam’s already carries the Sharp variety of Provolone in their club stores, but they have plans to unveil a new product (hopefully by the end of the summer and in time for fall holidays).  It’s called Le Provolizie (a sweet variety of provolone), and this is the cheese that I fell in love with on this trip!  The product below is a terra cotta baking dish with a disc of provolizie inside.  Put the dish in the oven for a few minutes, and the mild, sweet cheese comes out all melted and gooey (similar to the way that brie melts when baked).  The product pictured serves 2 people.  When I sat in on the business meeting that discussed this product, I piped up and shared my opinion that I thought since Sam’s was a club store and tends to sell items that are in large/bulk portions, the dish should be bigger and serve more people.  They listened to me… so hopefully that’s the product we’ll see- a larger dish of melted cheese that feeds 6 or 8 people- when this makes its way into into Sam’s Club stores in a few months!  I’ll keep you posted & will make it and share it on my blog when the time comes.

After the tour, Mr. Auricchio himself showed us his favorite place to eat lunch (one of those restaurants in Italy that you would never, ever find on your own as a tourist).    Mr. Auricchio is a man full of life and personality.  He sat at the head of the table and had our full attention with his stories and gregarious nature.

He asked the restaurant to make us tortelli (ravioli) stuffed with Auricchio’s sweet provolone.  They complied.  We had a lot of pasta while in Italy.  None of it had sauce.  None of it needed any.  This pasta was sauteed in butter with a little bit of sage.  And it was perfect.


I hope you enjoyed seeing the process of making provolone.  We tasted a lot of it on the trip and I’ve purchased the sharp variety of Auricchio at Sam’s Club since I’ve returned.  The sharp variety is just that… it has a strong, sharp flavor, and a little of it goes a long way.  I think you really have to be a fan of Provolone to enjoy the sharp on its own, but it’s fabulous when it’s incorporated into recipes.   I love the stuff myself.  I’ve purchased competitor brands of provolone in the U.S. before, and I have to say that they really can’t compare.  They either have very little flavor or are too much over-the-top with the strong flavor.  Sam’s is transitioning from carrying a domestic sharp Auricchio Provolone to the Imported Auricchio (a little more mild, well-rounded cheese) that we had on this trip.  The imported variety is one that you can confidently place on a cheese platter & it won’t be too strong or stinky for your guests.  I look forward to that as well as Sam’s Club’s release of the sweet variety that I discussed above… that will be one to celebrate!

Other Italy posts you might enjoy:
Searching for the Best Cheeses in Italy
Visit to an Italian Gorgonzola Factory

My favorite recipes that use provolone cheese (click pictures to view recipe):

Next up:  Asiago!

Disclaimer: I’m currently under contract with Sam’s Club to write about my experience with visiting cheese companies in Italy. Honest opinions and observations are shared.

Lori Lange of Recipe Girl

Meet The Author: Lori Lange

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Comments

  • Sue wrote:

    Provolone cheese is my favorite! Boy, it would have to be a BIG party to consume that whole bell! 🙂

  • Jason Sandeman wrote:

    I love that you got to go and see how it was made. I can only imagine what it would be like to roll that huge roll of cheese!

    Two things I hate to see about pasta: a plate of overcooked pasta covered in red sauce speckled with insipid balls of ground beef, and pasta on the other end of the scale – al dente.

    The butter/sage provolone sauce looks amazing, and it does what you should do best – showcase the pasta. The sauce is a condiment to the main star of the show, which is why it is such a shame to see it overcooked and tossed on a plate.

    Have you the chance to see regional pasta specialties as well?

  • Nick wrote:

    Holy Moly! That is friggin awesome! I want to go there!

  • Erin @ CelticHeart Designs wrote:

    MMMMM Cheese. I’m pregnant and cheese is one of those things I’ve been craving. Going to the factory must have been awesome! Thank you so much for sharing it!

  • Sarah Caron wrote:

    That sounds like an amazing experience. My husband loves this very, very sharp imported provolone that he gets from a specialty retailer, but the sweet one you mentioned sounds right up my alley.

  • Amanda wrote:

    If it were only available during the holidays, then yes, the larger size would probably make more sense. The first question that pops into my head though is about leftovers. I wonder how that would keep? With the smaller portions i wouldn’t be too worried about it. I think it would be cool if they were available in both sizes, but that might not be economically realistic, especially with a new item that they aren’t sure will even be a success yet! 🙂

  • Amanda wrote:

    Great post Lori. I loved seeing the cheese made, that’s awesome! I have to agree with Memoria and hope that Sam’s would still offer the smaller portions. I think your point make sense, but perhaps a combination of the ideas would work: a bulk package of smaller portions, say six in a pack? We shop at Sam’s because there are 6 of us, but we don’t entertain much, so the big portion wouldn’t really go over well in this house. The smaller ones would be better for us 🙂

    As for drenching pasta in sauce (or gravy as they really call it), I couldn’t agree with them more! I make several different kinds of sauces, but I think my favorite is one that uses olive oil and garlic. I can’t stand a plate of pasta devoured by red sauce. There should really only be enough sauce to coat the pasta and add flavor. Mmmmm I’m thinking pasta tonight now! LOL

    Thanks for sharing your tour, I loved it and look forward to the next installment 🙂

    • Lori Lange wrote:

      @Amanda, Thanks for your feedback! What if the terra cotta cheese dish was something that they only carried during the holiday season- as a specialty holiday item? Would it make more sense then to carry a larger size?

  • Mary wrote:

    Lori, I found this a fascinating post. I make soft cheeses here at home, but have never seen a commercial operation. I loved the photos. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings…Mary

  • Jenn wrote:

    Cheese heaven! That Italian grilled cheese looked amazing. Provolone is in my top 5 favorite cheeses. 🙂

    Jenn

  • Paula -bell’alimento wrote:

    Love it! Especially the foto of you with the ginormous Provolone! Burro e Salvia {butter & sage} is my most favorite sauce, it’s the perfect topping for a great pasta dish! Light & flavorful. Looking forward to seeing this at Sams – I’ll def be getting those 🙂 Ciao!

  • Barbara wrote:

    I’m loving these posts, Lori. What fun to see the photos..I felt as though I was there with you.
    I agree so completely about too much sauce on pasta! Sometimes I just use butter, herbs and cheese, no sauce at all.

  • Shaina wrote:

    The pasta looks incredible. Seriously, I’m drooling.

  • Peter wrote:

    Lori, you were blessed to be invited on this trip. You could have only come back richer with all the memories and endless food inspiration!

  • Ciaochowlinda wrote:

    You have landed a very cool spot visiting these cheese places. I love the photos – they’re great. And the food, oh the food.

  • marla wrote:

    Not only do your recipes look wonderful, but it is so fun to walk through the provolone process with you. This was such a great first hand learning experience for you, thanks for sharing it with us! xo

  • Barbara wrote:

    Very interesting. Is the sharp provolone strong like an Asiago? I’ve only ever had the soft, mild variety that is enjoyed on a sandwich.

    • Lori Lange wrote:

      @Barbara, Well, that depends which Asiago you’re tasting! The Asiago (next post!) that we tasted in Italy was a bit softer and milder than the rock hard stuff that you mostly find in the US. Sam’s Club imports this Asiago. Domestically produced sharp provolone “typically” is much stronger and sharp tasting (sharp like an extra- sharp cheddar), but the imported version is not quite so extreme… it’s still sharp, but slightly milder- perfect for recipes.

  • Maggy wrote:

    It’s only 8am and all I want to do is eat provolone! Might have to make that sandwich for lunch. What a great post, love the photos!

  • bellini valli wrote:

    To tour the establishments where they actuially make these cheeses would be a once in a life time big deal Laurie.

  • Sonia wrote:

    OMG!!! I’m speechless, Lori. Huge thanks for sharing such a informative post about cheese factory. I wish I would visit to Italy and cheese factory some day in my life! 🙂
    Now, looking forward to your recipes. 🙂

  • Memoria wrote:

    What do you mean about none of the pasta containing sauce? The pasta dish you got from the restaurant looks like it has a butter sauce on it. It looks completely amazing, too! I love how simple it looks.

    I love the idea of the terra cotta bowl housing the cheese. I hope SAM’S Club still plan to offer smaller portions of this cheese and not just have larger ones. There are still people out there with only one or two people per household.

    Thanks for this great post! I can’t wait to go back to Italy and try out more pasta dishes.

    • Lori Lange wrote:

      @Memoria, We had a discussion w/ one of the cheese company owners where he explained to us that they feel that Americans ruin pasta by covering it with so much sauce that you cannot taste the pasta. In this particular dish pictured, the tortelli was simply sauteed in butter and sage- no heavy sauce. It was heavenly!

      I’m not sure what the decision will be regarding the size of the dish. My point in providing feedback was that Sam’s Club is a “club” store, tending to provide products in larger/bulk portions. I thought that a larger portion of this product would make more sense. It would seem more appropriate to let a smaller-scale store carry the scaled-down product. We’ll have to wait and see what they decide. I look forward to it whatever it is!